Since the Indian government decided to scrap Article 370, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is tense. This turmoil has affected tourists and pilgrims visiting the region. Here is everything a traveller should keep in mind. By Bayar Jain
On August 5, Union Minister Amit Shah announced that the government is revoking Article 370 – an Article that gave the state of Jammu and Kashmir autonomy to make own rules relating to citizenship, ownership of property and fundamental rights. Whether or not the decision to scrap the Article is wise is debatable, but the fact that it has affected the tourism of the state is inevitable.
To begin with, the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims have been advised to leave the valley citing security threats. As a result, almost 95% of the tourists were flown out of the state. This heightened the burden on the already limited flights that operate in the valley. To facilitate the process, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) advised operators to prepare for additional flights, if the need arises. As travellers, this could lead to the route becoming busier and increasing the chances of delays in flights as well.
However, as the number of tourists taking this sector have increased, particularly from the valley to other parts of the country, the airfares have shot up abnormally high, shooting up to INR 15,000 in some cases for Air India (Leh to Delhi). Normal rates usually hover around INR 3,000. Amid this panic, though, multiple airlines such as Indigo, SpiceJet, and Vistara have given a full fee waiver on rescheduling and cancellation of flights to and fro from Srinagar, Jammu, and Kashmir till August 9. National carrier Air India has extended this service till August 15. State road transport corporation buses are also being deployed to bus people out from Pahalgam and Gulmarg.
The imposition of Section 144 in the region also implies that the likelihood of grocery stores and other shops remaining open also minimises. The ones that remain open are overburdened due to anxious residents stocking up on daily essentials. Petrol pumps have also witnessed a huge rush.
As travellers, it is also important to note that although major tourist spots are open, they have essentially been left deserted. Shops and shikharas in and around the Dal lake have been shut down though. Tour operators and travel companies have also postponed any August Kashmir tours that had been planned, suggesting tourists to travel to Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, or even Thailand as an alternative. Those who still wish to travel, though, are advised to do so with professional securities.
Taking a note of this tense situation, many foreign nations have also issued travel advisories for Kashmir bound tourists. The United Kingdom’s foreign office has asked tourists to remain vigilant, while the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised tourists to leave Jammu and Kashmir. The Australian Government issued a statement saying that the few who wish to travel to this northern state, despite the warning, will not be eligible for regular travel insurance policies. They even added that the government would not be able to provide consular assistance in case the need arises.